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CORE: an investment in student preparation

August  27, 2014

Augustana College has tripled its number of career staffers and teamed them with experts in advising, research and related services as CORE (Careers, Opportunities, Research and Exploration).

Q & A with Presidents Bahls

Video: Augie Minute with Dr. Michael Edmondson

CORE services at a glance

Career Development
Community Services
Entrepreneurial Center


Study Away
Upper Mississippi Center
Vocational Exploration

President Steve Bahls said the idea for CORE started about two years ago during strategic planning, when college leaders discussed what kinds of services would give Augustana students the most advantage in the job market or graduate school.

"What we thought we needed to do was connect the dots a little better, to be more deliberate and make it easier for students to think about their destination and the path to get there," he said.

"This is one of the most significant investments that Augustana has made in programs in my 12 years," he said. "While we've combined some functions, much of what we're doing is new."

The location for the CORE staff is new. They moved into expanded offices in the Olin Center in the middle of campus over the summer.

"We made a deliberate choice to locate CORE in the heart of campus, as we expect students to use it in the same way as the library," said Kent Barnds, executive vice president of the college. "The location alone suggests our level of commitment to give our students an edge that will make them stand out."

In addition to career preparation, the college has placed a new emphasis on advising and added a new director of advising in CORE.

"Our advisors feel a strong sense of responsibility toward their advisees, but it can be a challenge to provide expert advice on campus opportunities and careers when student interests are so diverse," said Dr. Kristin Douglas, associate dean of student success. "Our CORE offices will support advisors so that they do not have to be experts in study abroad, internships, research opportunities or career development."

She said advisors will be able to send students to CORE with a set of questions. CORE staff will help students explore the answers and then students will report back to their advisors.

"We are developing more of a team approach to helping our students succeed, but strong advising remains central," she said.

A revolutionary approach

Dr. Michael Edmondson

Dr. Michael Edmondson, whose career has spanned several different industries, is CORE's new associate vice president for careers and professional development. To say he is quite enthused about CORE's approach would be an understatement.

"We have more support for students and young alumni than, I would argue, almost any liberal arts school in the nation," he said.

He cited a recent Money magazine analysis of college career services which looked at the number of career staffers per students. The national average is 1.4 staff per 1,000 students. Augustana's ratio is 5.2 per 1,000.

"Next year we will hire two more counselors, so the ratio will go down even more," he said.

And that's not counting the other resources of CORE: an Entrepreneurial Center, additional advising staff, and faculty to guide and support student research, study abroad, internships and community outreach.

"CORE is the office that you go to for support outside of the classroom with regards to your career," Dr. Edmondson said. "If you have a question about your career, obviously you can start with your faculty advisor. However, you now have an entire office that is your resource.

"It's a revolutionary approach to career development, and necessary," he said.

In that last 10 years, the world has gone from connected to hyper-connected, he said, and business has adapted faster than education.

"What we've got to do is get students ready for the environment that they're entering, which is a world of global commerce that keeps changing every hour. And that's why we're using an educational model of career development and educating students about what's going on out there, in addition to the major that they acquire while they are here."

Dramatic changes

CORE's new offices are on the first and third floors of the Olin Center, where the smell of fresh paint lingered in late August and staff dodged carpet-layers. Several CORE staff are Augustana alumni, who can see how dramatically things are changing.

"We really see CORE as going beyond the physical space, "one-stop" concept to truly integrate academic opportunities with students' passions, skills and classroom learning. Advising is central to this and reflects the student-centered, developmental, and educational approach that defines what we do. Together, the people and services included in CORE embody the ideals of vocational exploration: what, as an individual, can I do to uniquely make a difference, given my passions, skills, experiences? We want students to explore the possibilities, reduce barriers, make connections, and have the experiences be meaningful for their educational development"

— Dr. Jeffrey Ratliff-Crain, associate dean

Kevin Carton '10 is a career counselor specializing in the arts and humanities. He said the level of support, plus the number of services now represented in CORE, is a sea change.

"It allows students the opportunity to speak with people in different specialties but also get a better understanding of how all of the different functional areas work together," he said. "When you are looking for a new opportunity there's a heavy emphasis on networking and a heavy emphasis on vocational exploration."

Leslie Scheck '10 remembers career services as a student certainly were available, but students had to seek them out.

"Now, we are going to seek the students out,' she said. "You can't walk by us without talking to us. You can't go into a class, hopefully, without talking about career development. And I think that's just the difference because we have so many people out there. All of us had to take our career development in our own hands, but if I had had CORE I think I would have been forced to do it a little more."

Another CORE staffer, Alex Washington '12, will work to connect students and alumni. He said alumni are eager to work together. If a student has an area of interest that could be augmented by contact with an alumnus in the field, Washington will bring them together.

He said the approach of CORE is more of a partnership with students than has been the case in the past. Students get "siloed" into thinking about the one way they're going to reach their goals but now there are many routes to that goal. ‘Using CORE can help you navigate and think about those possibilities," he said.

What students should do

First and foremost, CORE wants students to just come in. That won't be difficult, as most students walk by the Olin Center daily.

"Just walk in and talk to office coordinator Lisa Slater at the front desk about what your question is," said Dr. Edmondson. "Usually students have a question: "I want to apply for a job" or ‘I need a resume" or ‘I don't know what I want to do." She will direct you to where you need to go.

"We're all learning and training how to help a student initially and then act like a triage nurse in an ER and send them off to the right advocate for them. There are 12 of us in Career Development, so no one person has all the answers. If you come in and talk to Kevin he's going to talk to you and most likely say "You also need to talk to..." That's the point of CORE. We're all working together."

"Our commitment to CORE shows that we are not stuck peering down from ivory towers. We are focused on what our students deserve and what will matter when they leave us: employability and grad school placement in their first- or second-choice schools."

— Kent Barnds, executive vice president of the college

He said CORE and Career Development are going from "reactive to active." Staffers are assigned as liaisons to various constituencies on campus, and they will go where students are, presenting programs in residence halls and in front of student groups.

Dr. Edmondson said he thinks of CORE as a triangle. One side is the portfolio of products and services CORE offers. Another side is student responsibility.

"You have a responsibility, just as you do in your classroom to pass your classes, to prepare yourself professionally. That's where the Viking Score comes in."

The third side is campus engagement. CORE has been reaching out to all faculty and staff on campus to make sure they are involved.

Dr. Edmondson said he will be surveying students who use CORE to see how it's working.

"In a few months, I hope people will say, "Wow, this has really changed the way I look at career development and the way I use college resources. I realize that Augustana's got a renewed commitment to help me."